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Entries for the 'Soul of a Leader by Margaret Benefiel' Category

Thought Leaders Unpacked -> The Soul of a Leader #9: Finding Spiritual Guidance

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

thought-leadersIt’s always difficult to conclude a series. Especially a series as rich as this one. Margaret Benefiel has given us a great gift with her book, The Soul of a Leader.

She concludes by addressing one of the primary dysfunctions of leadership in America. I call it the myth of the strong, competent, and isolated leader.

Unlike athletes, for example, leaders seem to believe that their work must be done alone in order to qualify as legitimate leadership. An athlete surrounds her or himself with coaches, doctors, advice, and support of all sorts. Athletes know they cannot learn, succeed or even survive on their own.

Leaders, on the other hand, seem possessed by a demon that is ever threatening to expose them for the frauds they are afraid they might be. Consequently they direct all their energies to proving that they are completely competent, sufficiently strong and absolutely independent in their role.

When Benefiel asserts that spiritual guidance is a crucial form of support for leaders in today’s business world I have to cheer.

We need another set of eyes and ears in our life. We cannot remain focused, keep things in perspective, plan for the future, address emergencies, build enterprising teams, and sustain the energy, enthusiasm and spirit required to lead an business on an on-going basis. And that’s only a partial list of a leader’s role!

The key in considering spiritual direction is believing that having someone else watching and listening with you will be of value. The spiritual dimension of life in (more…)

Thought Leaders Unpacked -> The Soul of a Leader #8: Persevering to the End

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

thought-leadersWhen consistently engaging in practices of human wholeness and integrity something “subtle” takes place. Transformation.

This has been my favorite and most challenging chapter of this book. I am still wrestling with the notion that the “dark night of the soul” has an impact on one’s business life as well as one’s spirituality.

Of course, you say. Of course, I say!

A big mistake of modernity has been to compartmentalize spirituality away from other categories of work, life and relationships.

Of course one’s journey of personal maturity includes and impacts all areas of life. Even work. Especially work.

Benefiel courageously takes on perseverance in light of those tumultuous, disorienting seasons of life when the assumptions that have guided us to date collide with a deeper, richer, larger reality.

A medieval scholar, St. John of the Cross, is most famous for observing and describing how the spiritual journey includes seasons of such enormous disorientation that all ways seem dark, lonely, and impassable.

But we live busy lives of work, family, community involvement, political activism, etc. How do we accommodate an extended season of difficult (more…)

Thought Leaders Unpacked -> The Soul of a Leader #7: Breaking the Cycle of Violence

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

thought-leaders“The question for leaders is not whether they will encounter violence but how they will encounter it.” (p. 119)

I was initially caught off-guard that violence would figure so prominently in a leadership book about work, spirituality and “finding your path to success and fulfillment.”

Unlike most penners of management manifestos, Benefiel courageously addresses a reality that takes many forms in every workplace. I myself am still a stranger to the experience of physical violence in the workplace, so I will let Benefiel’s insights stand on their own.

But when it comes to other forms of violence: over-working people, under-paying people, belittling people, making people look bad, casting character aspersions, undermining authority, back-stabbing, doing as little as possible, spreading a bad attitude, etc. I have plenty to say.

Benefiel’s three ways forward raise three challenging conundrums.

In order to see compassionately, a leader has to understand, value and organize in light of the human factor in the workplace. And yet our culture’s myopic focus on the profitable bottom line divorced from all other factors and measures of success leads many to consider compassion a luxury to be indulged when convenient. In fact, though, we learn that compassion is crucial in order to reframe complex situations, issues and dynamics in more healthy and constructive ways.

In order to interrupt the cycle, a leader has to be willing to put him or herself in (more…)

Thought Leaders Unpacked -> The Soul of a Leader #6: Battling for the Soul

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

thought-leaders“When things aren’t going well, the temptation to allow the soul to erode is strong.” (p. 101) Aptly put.

Considering that all businesses rely on people to get their work done, it always amazes me that so many leaders do not do everything in their power to make sure their teams are playing at the top of their professional games. In fact, many do not even factor the human component into their thinking and planning.

Soul erosion.

I have long taught that there are three “hard facts” about working with people that any leader must come to terms with if they want their teams to succeed. One is that people need to contribute and make a difference. Second, people need to grow and develop. And third, people need to connect and belong.

Ignore any one of these three “hard facts” and you are merely erecting your own obstacles.

Margaret Benefiel is calling for this sort of honest assessment of one’s commitment to people. It’s not lip service. It’s looking at one’s practices, policies and behaviors, and assessing the effect they have on those in your professional care. If the effect is negative, harmful, or even dismissive, then you are—like it or not—fostering “soul erosion.”

Fact. People add value when they get to show up as people. Diminish the human (more…)

Thought Leaders Unpacked -> The Soul of a Leader #5: Practicing Gratitude

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

thought-leadersThe pressures of work and leadership are many. The tough economy merely compounds and complicates these concerns.

I believe the leader is responsible for maintaining perspective in the midst of all these pressures. Keeping things in perspective for him or herself, and keeping things in perspective for the team.

While a variety of means are available to the leader, Benefiel reminds us in this week’s chapter of the importance of gratitude as a perspective provider.

The beauty and power of this insight lies in its integrity. Gratitude is good for the soul, good for bringing valuable perspective to a situation, and good for building of trust and collaboration into relationships. Gratitude is correcting, restorative, renewing, and generative.

Of all the gifts a leader can bring to the team, gratitude belongs at the core. No other leadership function can endure without it. Not focus, not direction, not vision, not organization, not team building, not accountability, not confrontation, not planning, not communication… you get the idea.

Being a workplace culture builder myself, I’m partial to Benefiel’s (more…)

Thought Leaders Unpacked -> The Soul of a Leader #4: Keeping Mission at the Fore

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

thought-leadersIncreasing the bottom line isn’t a big enough mission.

It’s not that the profit motive is categorically bad in some way or less than foundational for the best of capitalism to flourish. It is simply too small.

Great for accountability. Great for measurement and quantification. No other system in human history has resulted in raising the standards of living for so many so quickly. Not even close.

Still, the profit motive is too small.

The human heart needs a bigger, fuller, more dynamic, more wholistic, more generative mission to invest itself into.

When an organization doesn’t articulate a mission, doesn’t reinforce its mission, or strays from its mission, people lose three vital components of successful engagement with their work. We lose a vital source of inspiration, a vital source of direction, and a vital source of integration.

Without inspiration, direction or integration work becomes an inhuman—maybe even robotic—race to do as much as possible in the least amount of time as possible. This race has no finish line because more is never enough. Work soon devolves into a meaningless grind. The exchange of one’s life for the profit of someone else. Small wonder so many people end up barely offering the minimal requirement in the maximum amount of time.

Hence Benefiel’s exhortation to leaders to focus on something more, share that something more widely and repeatedly, and keep returning to that something more. It’s literally the difference between life and death in the workplace.

What “something more” is your organization working for? How do you provide inspiration, direction and integration for the work efforts of your team? What was your main take-away from this chapter?

Each week I post my reflections from one chapter of The Soul of a Leader by Margaret Benefiel. My reflections are my own and are intended to generate conversation, catalyze additional thinking and encourage mutual learning.
If you are just joining the discussion now, welcome! Catch up on the entire series here.

Thought Leaders Unpacked -> The Soul of a Leader #3: Daring to Dream

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

thought-leaders“While many people think of reality as the enemy of dreaming, in fact, hard-headed reality must ground dreaming.” (p. 53)

I‘ve long struggled with the tendency of dreamers to begin their process with tidy utopian ideals disconnected from the complex and messy realities of human frailty and inevitable systemic dysfunctions.

The approach, (while the bread and butter of political campaigns,) is naive. Noble maybe some of the time… naive all of the time.

The implementation of utopian ideals cannot help but be as messy and broken as the people and systems that embody them.

While other thinkers have observed the importance of beginning the dream with a frank assessment of one’s presenting realities (e.g. Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline), core to the Christian worldview is the possibility that such honesty need never be the end of the story. Problems are never a death sentence, fate, or doom. They are simply facts.

As mere facts, they can be brought out into the light and examined. Turned over and over and looked at from a variety of angles. Underlying causes can be explored. Complicating circumstances, personalities, and effects can be examined.

No matter how disastrous, disappointing or desperate the results of our (more…)

Thought Leaders Unpacked -> The Soul of a Leader #2: Finding Partners

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

thought-leadersThis chapter was a challenge for me.

At first blush, I don’t seem to do partnership very well.

It’s not that I have anything against partnership, sharing or working with others. In fact, I’m a big believer in the complementary nature of people’s interests, skills and working styles.

But the fact remains that partnership has proven elusive.

Benefiel offers three phases of extending one’s hand in partnership.

1. Speaking the heart’s truth
2. Seeking resonance
3. Inviting partnership

Speaking, seeking, and inviting.

What though, if one (me) is running into bumps in the course of the speaking, seeking and inviting?

What if one is getting blank stares when speaking one’s heart truth?

It could be an issue of vocabulary. New ideas are sometimes outside of people’s perceptions. Bridging vocabulary needs to be found before understanding can happen.

What if one is getting only polite nods when seeking resonance? How do we locate those who will appreciate, understand and get as excited as we are about our idea?

For some of us this is a real conundrum. It’s wearying to tell the story so many times with so little to show for it. How do I keep my spirits in the game? What is my learning edge here?

And finally, what if one’s ideas are new enough that the search for partners is more like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack? Not all new ideas are good ideas. And yet one cannot simply give up on a trajectory that includes one’s heart truth!

I have more personal reflection to do.

It seems so straightforward and simple when reading Benefiel’s articulate descriptions. And maybe it is. Maybe I simply need to reconnect with the power of my heart’s truth, muster the courage to tell my story again and again and again, and risk working with those who share some if not all of my vision and passion.

What is your learning edge when thinking about finding partners? What was your main take-away from this chapter?

Each week I post my reflections from one chapter of The Soul of a Leader by Margaret Benefiel. My reflections are my own and are intended to generate conversation, catalyze additional thinking and encourage mutual learning.
If you are just joining the discussion now, welcome! Catch up on the entire series here.

Thought Leaders Unpacked -> The Soul of a Leader #1: Following the Heart

Friday, August 27th, 2010

thought-leaders“What possible good can result from venturing into the unknown?”

Margaret Benefiel thus thrusts us into the crux of the leader’s conundrum. We do not all traverse paths paved and mapped by others. Increasingly in today’s ever-changing world, we find ourselves in new territory, exploring not yet imagined possibilities.

If knowing or controlling the outcome is a prerequisite for leadership, then we are trapped before even beginning. How does anything new ever break in? If the end has to be determined and proven before we begin, there is no means for experimenting with the new, strange or different.

Benefiel’s bold assertion is that the heart can be trusted as a leader’s compass in charting strange territory, discerning the need for change, and trying entirely new approaches.

Anyone reading here probably already believes that leadership is not a mechanical catalogue of techniques that one masters and implements with precise and reliable effect.

What if leadership derives its very nature, form and power from the particular individual who enacts it? What if leadership were an embodied dynamic?

Suddenly the importance of what sort of person this leader is becomes significant. The quality of one’s character limits or enhances one’s capacity (more…)

Thought Leaders Unpacked -> The Soul of a Leader by Margaret Benefiel

Friday, August 20th, 2010

thought-leadersIf you believe that you need to be self-sufficient, dominant, proficient, and heartless in order to be a good leader, I don’t know whether to welcome you or warn you about our next Thought Leaders Unpackedâ„¢ series.

More than a challenge to the prevalent myths about leadership in our culture, Margaret Benefiel’s The Soul of a Leader is a guide to a healthier, deeper and more human understanding of leadership. Ironically, or maybe I should say, poetically, the evidence seems to suggest that such a human approach is also the more effective approach.

From my perspective, it makes perfect sense that it takes a healthy human person to effectively lead other human persons. Strange that so much of the leadership cult and culture today is content with mechanizing and commoditizing what by nature—people—are unique and diverse in talents, interests, styles and motivations.

What about you? Are you trying to squeeze yourself into the uncritically accepted mold of the self-sufficient, dominant, proficient, and heartless leader? Are you slowly dying inside in the process?

What if by doing so you were robbing yourself and the world of the very gift you have to offer… you!? You in all your distinctness, passion, giftedness and power.

Please join me as we explore this renewing and empowering book together. We will be working our way through one chapter at a time. I will post my reflections here each week. I invite you to contribute your reflections in the comment section. We can all learn more when we share more learning.

Choosing the Path
Following the Heart
Finding Partners
Daring to Dream

Staying on Track
Keeping Mission at the Fore
Practicing Gratitude
Battling for the Soul

Persevering to the End
Breaking the Cycle of Violence
Persevering to the End
Finding Spiritual Guidance

Here is a link to the book on Amazon.com. Get your copy today and we’ll look at the first chapter next week.

On your side,

- Karl Edwards